Saturday, December 12, 2009

Post Twenty-Six: "Father Seraphim Rose-His Life and Works" by Hieromonk Damascene

(click on images to enlarge)

This is far too lengthy a book for me to do any real justice to it critique wise or to really unload its contents in the space of one post.

But some general impressions I would not mind putting down at all.

One thing I like about this book is that Hieromonk Damascene has captured the aspect of Blessed Father Seraphim Rose's character which always made him a "student". Father Seraphim possessed that manner of humility that he knew he fell far short of the totality of knowledge that could be had and in fact it seems evident that this knowledge of his lack of knowledge progressed as his spiritual life did.

In this book Father Seraphim's pre-Orthodox life as Eugene Rose is set out for us as well to mark his entering into the Mystery of the Church and in Eugene we see the grounds already being sowed for the Kingdom well before his formal entry into Her.

Eugene, as is shown through this book, was a seeker after Truth which burned in him and he was also gifted with an intellect that was able to wrestle with the understanding that he, with the world, always stood at a crossroads between coming under the auspices of that type of person who utilized knowledge for the sake of worldly gain and the type of person who sincerely wielded knowledge in the noblest manner possible.

Early in Eugene's college career he came under the tutelage of his wise professor of Chinese philosophy, Gi-ming Shien. Giving insight into Eugene's character is his obvious love for this professor when we see the following quoted of the professor on pgs 73-74:

"What a man is is his learning, not what he has. It is his wisdom, not his knowledge. What a man is is revealed in his personal manner. The manner is not important in itself, but as it reveals the man...

"The end of learning is to be a good man.... Of primary importance in this is a teacher and friend, since the goal of education is not concepts, but personal change of character. In the teacher and friend is a living personal example. Only a spirit can influence a spirit."

Eugene sought only after such as this professor to teach him and to emulate whether in person or through their writings.

This is further shown later on this work as we see Eugene received into the Church and we see his close and reverent association with such persons as the future Saint John Maximovitch who also embodied the living of the tradition he had received and held it in the noblest manner possible, making himself one with the tradition so that where he began and ended and where it began and ended were of no importance to him. They were one.

And though Eugene came to the Church knowing and understanding that here was Truth in its fullest possible sense, he quickly came to understand and wrestle with that there were two "Orthodoxies" within the Church in much the same way that he understood this distinction to be operative "in the world" prior to his entering the Church with such people as his beloved Chinese professor and those who opposed him at the university.

This is shown on pages 227-228 in the following:

"From the first 'milk' I drank in as an Orthodox Christian in the Synod," Eugene was to recall in later years, "I was taught that we have two kinds(or perhaps 'traditions') of bishops: on one side Vladikas John, Averky, Leonty, Nektary, Sava; on the other, those who now seem to have the governing positions."

It was the lot of the great and holy hierarchs of the Russian Church Abroad to suffer much at the hands of those of the "other" tradition. And the one to suffer the most was the holiest of them all: Archbishop John.

It was one of Father Seraphim's hallmarks of character that he would not countenance fakery of any kind and he gravitated always to those who were authentic in any station of life, whether Orthodox or not.

And what of Father Seraphim's spiritual life? Of what manner was it and what did he hold before him in his striving after Christ?

I hope the reader will forgive me for the length of the following selection from the book but I thought it necessary and telling to reproduce it in its entirety as found on pgs 454-455:

In order to know this transfigured realm which was man's inheritance from the beginning, Fr. Seraphim was first of all being transfigured himself. The whole aim of monastic life is the transfiguration of the old man into an unearthly being, which is why the Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord on Mount Tabor has traditionally held such great significance for monastics.

As Fr. Seraphim knew, however, such transfiguration does not happen of itself. He did not wait for the virtues to come naturally, but, seeing their lack in himself, he consciously labored to acquire them, hoping in Christ to strengthen him. Each day entailed constant unseen warfare, watching and fighting against the interior movements of the fallen man. He was those about whom Christ said, The Kingdom of Heaven suffereth violence and the violent take it by force (Matt. 11:12). One of the visitors to the skete relates: "Fr. Seraphim believed that authentic Orthodox Christian life is very difficult and that one must grasp and hold onto it not only firmly and with all of one's might, but with a certain 'toughness' and tenacity, even a fierceness, because everything in the world, everything in this life, is constantly trying to steal it away and substitute some cheap imitation. He particularly liked those very single-minded saints who just kept right on going, no matter what the obstacles. This was one of the things he especially admired in Archbishop John (Maximovitch), who kept his inner life intact, no matter what was going on around him, and remained always serenely indifferent to the opinions of others about him."

Never forgetting the necessity of forcing himself in the Christian spiritual life, Fr. Seraphim lived according to the following words of St.Macarius the Great, which he entered into his spiritual journal: "In coming to the Lord, a man must force himself to that which is good, even against the inclination of his heart, continually expecting His mercy with undoubting faith, and force himself to love when he has no love, force himself to meekness when he has no meekness, force himself to pity and to have a merciful heart, force himself to be looked down upon, and when he is looked down upon to bear it patiently ... force himself to prayer when he has not spiritual prayer. And thus God, beholding him thus striving and compelling himself by force, in spite of an unwilling heart, gives him the true prayer of the Spirit, gives him true love, meekness, bowels of mercies (Col. 3:12), true kindness, and in short fills him with spiritual fruit."

The primary means of spiritual transformation is repentance: the awareness of sin within oneself—even the most subtle—and the heart-wrenching desire to turn from it and change. It has been seen how Fr. Seraphim, in the early years of his conversion, went through a process of deep repentance which changed him into a new being. But his repentance did not end there. As he well understood, true spiritual life involves continuous repentance, and a corresponding continuous re-creation and perfecting of one's inner being through the grace of Christ. In 1964, not many years after his conversion, he had discussed this in one of his "lay sermons." Reflecting on the Good Thief who while hanging on the cross had acknowledged his sin and confessed Christ, Fr.Seraphim wrote: "We are all, whether we realize it or not, in the position of this thief. Like him we have been condemned by our sins as unworthy of this life; like him we have nothing to hope for in this world, and we face only suffering and a miserable death if we hope for no other life than this. But if, like him, even in our suffering and unworthiness we yet turn to the God Who condescended to share our human weakness, even to such an ignominious death, and believe that He has the power to fulfill the promises He has made to us—then is our condemnation revoked, our sins forgiven, our unworthiness overlooked, and our pain and sorrow and death swallowed up in victory and joy and eternal life.

Father Seraphim influenced in his life many and became mentor and spiritual father to many as well. One person of note that Father Seraphim gave so much of his time to was Father Alexy Young. Father Alexy Young, at his ordination as priest was given the following words by Vladika Nektary as recorded on pages 780-781:

"Never, never be a 'professional' priest"-by which he meant: Don't let the priesthood be your 'career', your 'living'; let it be rather the air you breathe-and be less concerned about the material and financial aspects of your life than you are about giving yourself to Christ as His priest; be ready to suffer."

Vladika Nektary himself, it should be noted, during the ordination while giving Father Alexy the above quoted words, wept. It is told also that never did he serve the Divine Liturgy without being overcome with awe at the great Mystery before him.

I too am overcome with awe at the caliber of men before us to imitate in the persons of Father Seraphim Rose and all those he emulated and those who later would emulate him.

Set before us is always the same choosing of which "tradition" we would follow. And this choice we make with the bent of our heart.

One more thing of note I would like to mention is that one of Father Seraphim's most oft used quotes has been added to what I and my brothers do professionally with our restaurant. Some time back I did a post on one of things my brothers and I do to weld our business with our Faith titled, "Kyklos Greek Cafe presents Wisdom of the Saints." If you go to the post via the link and scroll down, you will see one of our receipts printed out and at bottom of the receipt one would find "It's later than you think."-Seraphim Rose written there.

Blessed (Saint) Father Seraphim Rose, pray for us!



Fr Dn Charles Joiner said...

This is a most worth while book to read. It give you a real sense how one becomes saintly.

Sophocles said...

Thank you for your comment, Deacon.

Yes, and I agree with you and think it a book that would be of great benefit to all contemporary Orthodox, especially those aspiring to the clergy.

Constantine said...

Thank you Sophocles. Great post.

It seems that regarding the two traditions in our Church, the Lord is longsuffering and patient and allows even those who do not have a heart for Him, (or maybe their heart is only very slightly inclined towards God and away from this world) to serve in His Churches in the hope that they may repent and enter more fully into the life of the Church. In any case, the Lord offers us His hospitality in His Church and woe unto us if we accept His grace but do not fervently seek to love Him more every day.

Jay Dyer said...

Great review, Sophocles.

Sophocles said...




Thank you, my friend.